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Fiction’s Fearless Females: Black Canary/Birds of Prey

Welcome to the latest installment in our yearly Fiction’s Fearless Females series! Michael of My Comic Relief kicked us off with his post on Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy of the Harley Quinn animated and comic book series. Kalie of Just Dread-full followed with Ellie and Sandie from the film “Last Night in Soho.” Look out for Jeff of The Imperial Talker’s post in just a few days, and Nancy’s post next week!

In last year’s post, I teased the heroine I had in mind for this year’s post. Our friendship theme for this year fit perfectly for who I had in mind: Black Canary. This was a prime opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Quick note: I’ll be talking strictly about the comics, as the movie with the same title shares… the title only. It not only doesn’t focus on Black Canary, but didn’t even include all canonical characters that make this team so special.

There are (to date) two iterations of the Black Canary character: Dinah Drake and her daughter, Dinah Laurel Lance, who we’re going to focus on. The character you think of when you hear “Black Canary” is most likely the second iteration. Though both are blonde bombshells and martial arts experts sporting tight leather bodysuits and fishnets, Baby Dinah’s signature superpower is her Canary Cry: a supersonic scream that she can control and direct. But as we’ll see, that’s not her only power…

The Canary Cry, as seen on the Justice League animated series (GIF source)

Baby Dinah grew up surrounded by heroes. Her mother, the first Black Canary, was part of the Golden Age Justice League of America. Naturally, Dinah wanted to be a crimefighter, just like her mom and the heroes who were family to her. Mama Canary, not wishing a vigilante’s dangerous life upon her only daughter, forbade it. In a classic #FFF move, Dinah went against her mother’s wishes to follow her dreams. She trained with Ted Grant (Wildcat) to become a martial arts expert and took up the mantle of Black Canary. She even starts operating out of a floral shop in Gotham, just like Mom did. She goes on to become a founding member of the Justice League International and joins the Justice League, where she meets Green Arrow (Oliver Queen), marking the beginning of their romantic relationship. After the death of her mother and a bad breakup with Oliver, Dinah finds herself adrift and unsure of what to do with her life. (Source)

Enter Oracle (the hero Barbara Gordon, or Batgirl 1, became after her paralysis due to Joker’s shooting, as outlined in my 2020 FFF post), seeking the perfect operative for her covert operations. This was the case in Birds of Prey #1 (the cover of which is the featured image for this post!), written by Chuck Dixon in 1995, published in 1996. The rest is history.

Now, up until this point, Black Canary had very rarely had her own book, in an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” sort of situation. That changed with Birds. Though she shares the limelight with Oracle to start, Huntress in 2003 when Gail Simone took over the helm, and an ever-expanding roster in later years… Dinah is very much the heart and soul of the book. She might share the title, but she is the embodiment of everything the Birds come to represent over the course of the run.

Of course, the biggest themes of the book are that of friendship and found family. Barbara, in selecting Dinah as her first covert operative, gave Dinah a second chance to find her purpose as a heroine. Conflict in the earlier issues stems in part from Barbara and Dinah’s clashing personalities and work methods. Barbara as Oracle is methodical, meticulous, and organized. Dinah’s Canary is a little more loose and a go-with-the-flow type of gal. They each cause the other no end of grief, until they learn to trust one another. But once they do, Barbara and Dinah, along with Helena Bertinelli as Huntress later, grow so much closer than mere coworkers.

The cover of trade paperback Vol. 3 (reviewed here), which collects the beginning of Gail Simone’s run, when Huntress was added to the roster

In fact, it’s Dinah who suggests that Helena becomes part of the team. Barbara is resistant because she doesn’t approve of Helena’s more violent methods of crimefighting. But when Dinah welcomes Helena with open arms… what is she to do but give her a chance? And though Barbara and Helena clash the same way she and Dinah did in the beginning, and even through Helena’s brief departure, they learn to trust each other. With that burgeoning trust comes a deep respect for each other. They become partners, friends, sisters. They become a team in so many other ways than just a covert operations unit. And none of it would have happened without Dinah.

Dinah, as a character, is idealistic and humanitarian. She is (with few exceptions) willing to give everyone, even the most heinous villains, the benefit of the doubt and a chance at redemption, rehabilitation, and in Helena’s case, friendship. Helena had been an outcast of the Batfamily due to her violent tendencies, but Dinah does what they didn’t: give her a chance. Conflict within the team further arises from this clash of ideals. Barbara’s faith in others has been damaged due to the trauma she suffered. Helena naturally distrusts and is quite cynical of everyone. Dinah leads by example by being open, accepting, and willing to give everyone a fair shot.

For example, there’s an arc where Dinah and Sandra Wu-San (Lady Shiva) trade places for a year. The two women share a tentative bond, as they were trained by the same martial arts sensei. However, again, the two women are very different: Sandra is the world’s deadliest assassin, while Dinah has a code against killing. Shiva offers to further Canary’s training, but Dinah refuses, fearing her morality will slip. They arrive at this compromise instead. Dinah goes to train for a year as Sandra did, and Sandra joins the Birds for a year, calling herself the Jade Canary. Dinah hopes her time with the Birds allows Sandra to warm up to new experiences and helping people rather than killing for hire. The rest of the team might (and certainly did) call her crazy – but Dinah believed what she was doing was right: giving Sandra a chance to grow and change. (Sources 1 and 2)

The cover of Birds of Prey #95, showing “the two Canaries” (Image Source)

Dinah Laurel Lance, as Black Canary, might be one of three top billers on the Birds of Prey book – but she is the heart and soul of the story. Barbara Gordon as Oracle gave her the chance to reinvent herself as a hero, and Dinah went above and beyond the call. She showed herself, her coworkers-turned-sisters, and us the readers, the power of friendship. As corny as it sounds, Dinah’s greatest power is her loving acceptance of others and her willingness to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Though she is the loudest – literally and figuratively – of the bunch, her power comes from the quiet, understated kindness that she gives to everyone.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you likely know that Birds of Prey is my favorite comic book series of all time. I’ve reviewed the entire series in trade paperback for this blog and am currently re-reading the newly published omnibus editions with my husband. It’s been a joy to take a deeper dive into the friendship this series is famous for with #FictionsFearlessFemales this year. Look out for the rest of this year’s series!

Kathleen

Batgirl & the Birds of Prey (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Full Circle

The Birds have been quite busy. Babs has been gathering a lot of good intel lately, to stop crimes before they even begin. The team feels great, but Barbara herself… isn’t. She hasn’t told Dinah or Helena that she’s been getting all this intel from a backdoor she left in Calculator’s system the last time they ran in with him. When Calculator discovers Oracle has been snooping in his system, he becomes obsessed once again, and will stop at nothing to discover Oracle’s identity. When a former member of their team gets caught in Calculator’s crossfire, Barbara’s secret is unveiled. Dinah and Helena feel angry and betrayed. Is this the end of the Birds, or can they band together once more to defeat Calculator once and for all?

I’ve probably said it before, but I’ll say it again: this is my favorite Rebirth title. The new Birds keeps the friendship and sisterhood of Barbara, Helena, and Dinah at the core, while freshening up the characters and stories for modern audiences. I’d say this run is suited for middle-grade (depending on the maturity of the child) and YA audiences just as well as adult. This volume especially shows the importance of women standing and working together, which young girls need to see! Birds of Prey also shows that girls can overcome big differences to become friends, sisters, and teammates.

Unlike with Rebirth Wonder Woman (of which the more I read the more I realize background knowledge is needed for newcomers to the title), Birds of Prey doesn’t make background knowledge a necessity. Calculator has been after Oracle before in the original run, but it’s not vital to know the details before coming to this run. BOP has been the most newcomer-friendly Rebirth title I’ve read, and the most important for young ladies!

– Kathleen

Benson, Julie, Shawna Benson, Roge Antonio, and Marcio Takara. Batgirl & the Birds of Prey (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Full Circle. 2018.

Birds of Prey (II, Vol. 2): The Death of Oracle

Too many people know who Oracle is. There’s only one solution Barbara can see: Oracle has to die. Tricky part is, no one’s in on the plan. Not even Dinah or any of the other Birds. When Calculator moves to destroy Oracle once and for all, Barbara sees her chance. She carefully pulls her strings, manipulating the Birds and Calculator’s goons right where she wants them. But when the mission turns south fast, can Oracle save her team one more time? Can the superhero community survive without an Oracle?

This is the most high-stakes mission the Birds have yet. The tension radiates from every page as you race through, desperate to see what happens! The action scenes are consequently particularly good in this volume, mirroring the tension in the story. There is more to the book after the end of this story, including Huntress reigniting an old flame and Lady Blackhawk reuniting with some of her old friends from her WWII days! I’m always up for a story centering on Zinda ;D

This is unfortunately the last volume before the New 52 – the series was cancelled after this volume =( It’s a shame the end of the story wasn’t really wrapped up, though at the very end there is a joke recalling earlier volumes, which was fun. I’m really sad I’m getting to the end – this is my favorite series and I don’t ever want to run out!!! Stay tuned for the New 52 run!

– Kathleen

Simone, Gail, Ardian Syaf, Pere Pérez, and Stanley Lau. Birds of Prey (II, Vol. 2): The Death of Oracle. 2011.

Birds of Prey (II, Vol. 1): End Run

A little backstory before my review. It turns out, my last review of Birds of Prey was the last of the original run! After the Platinum Flats arc, it was cancelled!! I know, I’m outraged too!!! I will have to do more digging and see what happened. The good news is, they rebooted it for a short while after the Brightest Day event, with Gail Simone returning as writer. There isn’t much of this run before the New 52, but I’m addicted and need my fix!

The Birds have disbanded. In the aftermath of the Brightest Day event, they are back again… because someone wants them to be. A masked woman dressed all in white is threatening to kill one of the Birds every hour – unless Black Canary agrees to go with her. Of course, Dinah is not going without a fight, and the rest of the Birds will fight tooth and nail to keep her by their side, even after their separation. They’re going to need a little help though, from the resurrected Hawk and his partner, Dove. The bond of the Birds is about to be tested like never before. Will they hold strong together, or crumble once again?

The Birds are truly at their best while under Simone’s wing. They are more than a team, they’re a family. The love and respect these women have for each other, and that Simone has for these characters, is palpable in every page. Hawk and Dove made a fun addition, especially the war-mongering Hawk, who added a wild card element to the already fast-paced mix. Ed Benes has been a favorite artist of mine throughout this title, for the emotive qualities he brings to the heroines. Though I wouldn’t recommend it for first-time readers of this title – too many past events are referenced – it’s one of the best examples of the title there is.

– Kathleen

Simone, Gail, Ed Benes, Adriana Melo, and Alvin Lee. Birds of Prey (II, Vol. 1): End Run. 2011.

Birds of Prey (Vol. 12): Platinum Flats

The Birds have moved to Platinum Flats, a Silicon Valley-type town where there’s a new startup on every corner. No one will pay any attention to the new Clocktower Systems, a.k.a. the Birds’ new nest. They came for one crime boss, but they quickly realize that it’s a lot more than one guy. A whole group of supervillans moonlighting as CEOs have formed a group called the Silican Syndicate, and they’re in the startup business solely for themselves. Oracle’s intel is good so far, but from a questionable source. How long until she gets a bad piece of information? And when the Joker shows up in town, will Babs be able to stand up to him?

A little corporate action was fun after the globe-trotting of the past few volumes. The tension was ratcheted up in this volume with the addition of the Joker. This was the first time he and Babs had come face-to-face after he shot her and put her in the wheelchair. Bab’s emotions about their confrontation were realistic and really tugged my heartstrings. Can’t wait for the next volume!

– Kathleen

Bedard, Tony, Michael O’Hare, Nicola Scott, and Claude St. Aubin. Birds of Prey (Vol. 12): Platinum Flats. 2009.

Birds of Prey (Vol. 11): Metropolis or Dust

Bringing down the sociopathic daughter of a mobster: business as usual for the Birds. But somehow she’s harnessed a mysterious kind of magic and killed a lot of people in Metropolis. Superman, understandably, is pissed, and berates Babs for biting off more than she can chew. But Oracle WILL get to the bottom of this… whatever it takes. Even if it means she has to recruit the emotionally unstable Black Alice. Meanwhile, someone from Zinda’s past shows up – her distant past, from World War II. He’s after her memories, and Huntress can’t let her face that all by herself.

… Something just seemed off to me about this book. It wasn’t until Lady Blackhawk and Huntress go after Killer Shark that it hit me. Simone hadn’t written this one. Under her care, none of the Birds were treated as damsels in distress, especially not Zinda. So that bit was a little disturbing to me. Thankfully that was short-lived… unlike Misfit. I REALLY don’t like her and wish she would go away. It was still okay, but I feel it’s going off the rails a bit. Here’s hoping the next volume is better!

– Kathleen

McKeever, Sean, Nicola Scott, and Doug Hazelwood. Birds of Prey (Vol. 11): Metropolis or Dust. 2008.

Top 5 Wednesday: Books That Would Make Good Video Games

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes.

I’m going back in time in the T5W bank, because today’s was sci-fi/fantasy related again and I just did one of those! Let’s mix it up a bit =P I’m slowly getting back into games after trying Horizon Zero Dawn~

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5. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Thought of you, Nancy! =P Eleanor & Park is an incredibly cute but incredibly heartbreaking story about two misfit teenagers falling in love. It’s set in the ’80s, but I often forgot that while reading it because the story and themes are so timeless. I think it would make a great 8 bit platformer game. You could alternate playing as Eleanor and Park every other level, and find different comics and tapes referenced in the book to give to the other person. There could be a heart meter that goes up or down depending on how many or what you find and give. And maybe the game would reveal the three mysterious words on the postcard – and change every time depending on how you play and how full you get the meter!

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4. Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor

The first book is amazing and even if the sequels aren’t on the same level, y’all should read it. This trilogy is about a girl with blue hair named Karou, an artist who’s raised by monsters. One of her guardians deals in animal teeth, and you find out later he builds other creatures from the teeth he collects and strings together like necklaces. Wouldn’t that be an awesome sidequest in a game??? Finding teeth and stringing them together to build creatures for an army, each animal with different stat attributes? Deal me in!

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3. Wonder Woman by George Perez

Okay, I admit I’ll take any incarnation of WW as a game, but the story and art of this run are iconic and stellar! I think it would lend itself well to a video game. There are also plenty of plot threads – main and side – that would translate well to a game. As it was written in the ’80s, I imagine it as another 8 bit sidescroller… complete with all the melodramatic cheesy dialogue goodness!

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2. Birds of Prey by Gail Simone

There are a lot of angles from which a Birds game could be played. You could play strictly as Oracle, where you choose the heroes you send into the field, and see them from a birds-eye view (pun not intended!), and manipulate them as if you were playing a tactical board game. In addition to moving your heroines around, there could also be puzzles to solve and codes to crack in order for the mission to succeed. You could also play as one of the heroes and go into the field, with Oracle as your AI guide, for a more action-oriented game. I feel no matter which incarnation you get, there should be a role-playing element, to highlight the bond between the Birds so evident in the comics!

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1. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Okay I know we’ve had ports of movie tie-ins to just about every console and handheld from the PS1 and GameBoy on… we had Pottermore back when it was actually a game (and I’m still incredibly salty it’s not anymore)… but wHERE IS MY HARRY POTTER SIMULATOR??? WHEN CAN I MAKE MY OWN CHARACTER AND PLAY AS HER THROUGH HOGWARTS??? WHEN?!!?!? IT’S 2017 AND WE DON’T HAVE THIS YET AND IT’S A TRAVESTY TO HUMANKIND TBH

Honorable mention was a Batgirl game… one half-baked Arkham Knight DLC is never going to be enough… #saltyaboutit

What book to game incarnations would you want to see? =D

– Kathleen

Birds of Prey (Vol. 10): Club Kids

Babs kind of has her hands full right now. For one thing, that Calculator guy is hot on her trail again… and he gets a little too close to her real identity for her comfort. The ever-polyamorous Ollie has proposed marriage to Dinah, and what kind of friend would she be if she didn’t try to talk her out of it? Huntress has gone off the rails again and Lady Blackhawk has gone MIA after the death of an old friend… how can Barbara possibly keep it together?

This volume was quite a bit thinner than the last, and the story skips around a lot. This part of the arc takes place between a few events like The Death of the New Gods. As it is, I think there were a lot of disjointed elements in this book and none of them really came together to create a whole story. It just seemed… so very in the middle, without a clear beginning or end. Most comics are like this but so far there’s been an attempt to start and end each individual story clearly, but this wasn’t the case here.

– Kathleen

Bedard, Tony, Nicola Scott, Jason Orfalas, and David Cole. Birds of Prey (Vol. 10): Club Kids. 2009.

Birds of Prey (Vol. 9): Dead of Winter

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Simone, Gail, Nicola Scott, and Doug Hazlewood. Birds of Prey (Vol. 9): Dead of Winter. 2008.

Barbara’s former college rival, Katarina, also known as Spy Smasher, has taken control of the Birds. They are en route to Russia for this adventure. They are to take back a weapon the Russian government has, and that’s being guarded by the Secret Six. When they discover that the “weapon” is in fact a person – a hero who has been dead for quite some time – the Birds, especially with their recent change in management, may be up for their deadliest mission yet. Can Barbara take back her organization before it’s too late?

The action never stops in this volume! The writing is incredibly fast-paced and the art dynamic. Tensions within the team are particularly high here, and the facial expressions of all the ladies were captured particularly well. There are some great moments with Big Barda and Lady Blackhawk – who are quickly becoming my new favorites XD

– Kathleen

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